Giggles and laughter are heard as children run through the playgroup at their local early childhood centre. The jovial noise brings light to the teacher’s eyes and knowing smiles on their faces. The game of chase is progressing, yet there is that one child – the one who doesn’t quite seem to know his body. He runs along, giggling and joining in with the rest, but he seems awkward. Balls are now being thrown in a game of catch, and he hesitates unsure if he should attempt to catch it. But too late, it’s coming, straight for him. Smack! It hits him in the face and his friends run off laughing to find another game. The boy shakes his head unsure how he could have missed it, exasperated that he never really gets it. And he wonders why.
This is not such an uncommon scenario in the early childhood setting or any primary school for that matter. As parents and educators, we can see when a child is aware of their body and feels comfortable with physical movement. In fact, it is our goal as educators to help our children succeed in this area as learning as we know that learning does not only happen in the brain. We desire to progress children academically, socially, and physically – hence the multi-dimensionality of our curriculum Te Whaariki, and The New Zealand Curriculum. But is the impact of physical IQ really understood in the day to day running of schools and preschools? Are we aware and trained in recognizing primitive reflexes and their impact in the class? Do we know how to help our children even if we can see it?
Here are just some of the ways that Primitive Reflexes (our bodies naturally survival system in infancy), can impact children’s development and academic achievement if they are not integrated into our physical system.
POSITIVE AFFECTS OF PRIMITIVE REFLEXES
Help us to navigate the birth canal
Provides a way to receive help in early life
Keep our airway clear for breathing
Provide visual stimulation in the early months
Provides the first hand-eye coordination
Provides survival mechanism in severe injury
Helps with initial feeding
Affects how our eyes work
Struggle with bi-lateral movements
The body isn’t fully under our control
Can’t compensate for uncoordination
Academic difficulties by year 3
Sits W legged
Low muscle tone resulting in inadequate posture at mat time
Hits first thinks later child
Inadequate chair posture – slumping
Uncoordinated at sports/ swimming
Can be the class clown for acceptance
Overly anxious/ shy
Struggles sitting still
Look, I don’t want to portray that reflexes are always bad. They are part of us for a reason. We need them – especially postural reflexes. But when primitive reflexes stay with us too long (past four years of age) they actually hinder our learning process instead of helping us. We become controlled by them rather than controlling them. Now over many, many years, we can grow into adulthood and they hardly exhibit their influence because we learn to compensate so well. We make adjustments because we know how our body will respond despite that response not being what it should be. But why should we put up with them when the solution is so easy? Why should we have to make allowances, make exceptions and excuses? Why, when we can help all children succeed both physically and help academically by making stronger body-brain connections?
Ruvehan Cohen-Raz said “There is nothing in the mind that cannot be seen in the posture.” Physical literacy is just as important as mental literacy.
A child’s posture shows us what is happening in the child’s mind and if we value academics, education, learning and positive social behaviour then we need to ensure that we are training the child’s physical capabilities not just their mental capabilities. The body and brain work in such close correlation with one another that they rely on each other for input (proprioception and vestibular adjustment to name just two). The brain cannot work without the body and the body cannot work without the brain. As parents, educators and leaders of children, we need to ensure that their learning experiences are well-rounded, holistic and physically challenging. Let’s do the best job we can with the children in our care. Let’s help them succeed. Let’s teach them how to move.
Do you need help identifying and remediating reflexes with your children? Contact us now for details of the one-day teachers course in Assessing Neuromotor Readiness for Learning.